Transcript: 154. The Murder of Dr Helen Davidson | England

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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Some parts are graphic in nature and listener discretion is advised. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones. 

It was a gloomy fall afternoon in Buckinghamshire and police were out in force, searching for a missing physician. 49-year-old Dr Helen Davidson was an avid birdwatcher and made time for this pastime every Wednesday, on her afternoon off from work.

Late in the evening of the 9th of November 1966, her octogenarian husband informed police that she never made it home. In the dark of night, they found her car on the shoulder of the road, next to Hodgemoor Wood. A search of the immediate area proved unsuccessful, and with poor lighting provided by flashlights, they decided to wait for morning to resume their search.

The following afternoon, they found the doctor’s bludgeoned body in the heart of the woods. She had suffered a brutal, relentless attack. Her binoculars, covered with blood, were still around her neck. Her trusted dog, Fancy, was lying by her side, protectively growling at anyone who tried to get closer.

As soon as news of Dr Helen Davidson’s murder hit the high street if Amersham, the rumour mill began to churn. Who would kill the beloved doctor? Did she stumble across something she shouldn’t have seen? Or was the murder personally motivated – what was at play: jealousy, vengeance perhaps? To this day, the case with more suspects than convictions, remains unsolved.

>>Intro Music

Alan and Sybil Davidson had a son Anthony when their daughter, Helen was born on the 1st of October, 1917 in St John’s Wood. London. Helen had an upper-middleclass upbringing and had the good fortune to attend some of England’s most reputable schools. 

Her father was an enthusiastic winter ice skater, if you could imagine the bygone days of skating for leisure on frozen lakes or ponds with top hats and tails. Alan Davidson played an integral part in founding the Royal Skating Club. He was friendly with the royal family and through his work with the Skating Club, often met with foreign royal visitors and other members of the aristocracy. The Davidson family, though not greatly influential per se, definitely moved in high powered circles.

After attending a prestigious high school in Devon, Helen was sent to a finishing school in Switzerland. A well-earned scholarship at the London School of Medicine for Women granted her the opportunity to become a medical doctor. She worked in London for a while, establishing herself as a well-respected surgeon and anaesthetist. After World War II, an opportunity arose that took Helen out of the city, to Buckinghamshire. She was excited about the prospect of becoming a country doctor, seeing as she loved spending time outdoors and exploring nature.

She worked as a general practitioner at Gore Hill Medical Practice in Chesham Bois. She was unmarried for many years, and one hundred per cent devoted to her patients. Helen was born to do what she did for a living. She went above and beyond to see to her patients, shared their highs and lows, even cried with them. 

Helen was fiercely independent and locals saw her coming from a mile away, with her recognisable, focussed stride. She had a no-nonsense approach to most things in life, but when it came to her patients, she was known to be kind and caring.

She spent most of her time at work or with patients. If she had any free time, she would take her dog Fancy, wire-haired terrier, along for a spot of birdwatching in one of the many wooded areas in Buckinghamshire. Helen’s love and appreciation for nature was infectious and she revelled in the peace and tranquillity it offered. She preferred to go birdwatching by herself, she could be alone with her thoughts and unwind from her demanding work. The highlight of her week was to go into the woods with her dog, Fancy, and her binoculars around her neck and observe local birdlife.

Helen was also a member of the Chiltern Medical Society, and enjoyed their get-togethers, seeing as she he loved sharing new studies and discussing interesting medical cases with fellow practitioners. But when the society became more of a social group than an academic one, Helen retreated, and did not attend meetings as often as before.

When an announcement was placed about Helen’s upcoming marriage to widower, Herbert Baker in August 1961, her friends and family were surprised. Nobody knew she had been romantically involved with anyone, let alone a man 30 years older than her. Some questioned why the pair decided to get married at all. They were both financially independent and lived comfortably. Helen resided to a life without marriage when she decided to become a doctor, however, Herbert convinced her that having someone to come home to at the end of a day, could be good for her.

Helen was Herbert’s second wife, and she insisted on keeping her maiden name. Herbert wasn’t too well-known around town. He had worked in London and lived a quiet life with his first wife who had suffered from arthritis for many years. And he and his new wife, Helen, hardly ever socialised together as a couple. The only place they appeared together was at church, on Sunday mornings, and at church choir practice. Independently they came and went as they pleased, seldomly informing the other of their movements. From the outside-in, theirs seemed like a strange marriage. If nothing else, a marriage of convenience. 

They lived in Helen’s Tudor-style semi-detached cottage called Ashlyn, on North Road, Chesham Bois. Neighbours found Herbert, who fancied himself to be a lay-preacher rather offensive, as he was quick to share his opinion if anyone did anything that was against the bible, like yard work on a Sunday. His brash manner was completely different to Helen’s, who was known for her kindness.

In 1966, the odd couple had been married for 5 years. Helen had been a GP at Gore Hill practice for more than 20 years and was comfortable in her weekly routine. In April of that year, her 91-year-old father, Alan Davidson passed away in London. Helen bought her mother, Sybil a home in Top Amersham, so she could be closer to her.

She spent more and more time with her mom, as things at home wasn’t all that great. Helen and Herbert’s marriage was not a happy one and it seemed to have changed something Helen. Local magistrate, Pam Appleby recalled:

“Helen was not a pretty woman, but when she smiled her face lit up… After her marriage in 1961 the light went out of her wonderful eyes. She lost her smile and sparkle.”

A contributing factor to this, was Herbert’s close relationship with his housekeeper of 30 years, Kathleen Cooke. Kathleen began to work for Herbert and his first wife Ruby when she was still a teenager. For the most of her adult life, Ruby suffered from ill health. Herbert took the underprivileged Kathleen under his wing, and soon it was rumoured that they were having an affair. They both nursed Ruby, during her last months. When Ruby passed away in 1960, Kathleen assumed she would be the next Mrs Baker. However, Herbert informed her that he was going to marry Ruby’s doctor, Helen Davidson. 

Herbert moved out of Rosemead Cottage, in Hyde Heath, to live with his new bride. Hyde Heath was only a short distance away – less than a 10-minute drive. Helen’s house was the nicer of the two residences, and the obvious choice. Rosemead Cottage was not quite as romantic as the name suggests. It was in desperate need of maintenance and the front garden was overgrown. The cottage had some potential, but Helen was set in her ways and it was agreed they would live at Ashlyn.

Interestingly Herbert allowed his housekeeper Kathleen to move into his home, where it was agreed she would live rent-free, for the rest of her natural life. Kathleen was a recluse and a hoarder who never invited anyone but Herbert into her home. When Helen went to work in the mornings, Herbert’s black car was often seen driving off, in the direction of Hyde Heath. For most of the day, it was parked outside Rosemead cottage.

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On the morning of the 9th of November 1966, Dr Helen Davidson did an early-morning house call at a family in Hyde Heath, who had recently welcomed twin baby girls into their home. Helen went around to see how the family was coping and to check up on the two infants. This was above and beyond her expected duty, but that is the level of care Helen provided – to her, it was how doctors were supposed to treat their patients.

From there she went into her practice in Chesham Bois for the morning, excited about her afternoon off. Helen, a creature of habit, had every Wednesday afternoon free. This was her opportunity to go birdwatching, her absolute favourite pastime. When she was done for the day, she drove home to pick up Fancy – her dog. She would never go birdwatching without Fancy, and that grey and gloomy fall afternoon was no exception. 

She left home again at 2:30pm and stopped by Express Dairy on Hill Avenue to buy some milk. The shopkeeper recalled Helen buying premium milk, called Gold Top, which was considered a treat back then. Milk was delivered every day, so it is unlikely that a household with only two people would have run out. Perhaps Helen wanted to make something special, or perhaps it was a gift for her elderly mother, where she went straight after. Sybil Davidson was delighted to spend the best part of an hour with her daughter, but knew Helen was aching to get out into the woods, using the last hour of daylight to go birdwatching.

Helen found a spot to park, on Bottrells Lane just after 4pm, across the road from a pub, The Magpie. Bottrells Lane, a winding country road, was quiet, but not completely off the beaten track. The location Helen chose to leave her car, was in clear view of passers-by, and being across the road from a pub, it was not considered to be a dangerous place. There were concrete parking slabs, a couple of yards into the woods, off the road, but at that time of day, it was reputed to be a meeting place for lovers. Helen wasn’t interested in any of that, and only wanted to go for a walk, undisturbed, looking for birds.

It was a chilly day, with temperature only just peaking at 7 degrees Celsius. With night falling, Helen would not have been able to go for too long of a walk. In all likelihood, she probably thought she’d go out for less than an hour or so, let Fancy have a bit of a run, see if she could catch a glimpse of a great spotted woodpecker or a sparrowhawk, before calling it a day.

When she didn’t return home in time for their dinner plans with friends, Herbert grew concerned. They had been invited to the home of Reverend Francis Roberts and his wife Gwenda. Herbert was at a loss, so he called Chesham Cottage Hospital and asked if Dr Davidson was there on a call. Perhaps one of her patients had been an accident, or maybe someone had gone into labour… Of course, Helen would have informed him, because of the dinner plans, but still, he had to check. As the evening went on and there was still no sign of Helen, Herbert, his neighbour and Reverend Roberts went looking for the missing doctor. 

When their search didn’t lead to anything, Herbert reported Helen missing to police. He had no idea where she went, and investigators got a first glimpse into their somewhat unconventional marriage. Herbert knew that she usually went birdwatching on her afternoons off, but he assumed she must have gone into the woods near their home. However, there was no sign of her, her dog or her car.

At 2am, police found Helen’s recognisable pale-blue Hillman Minx, parked opposite The Magpie pub, at the entrance to the woods, on Bottrells Lane. The vehicle was locked with Helen’s bag and her binocular case inside.  

They searched the immediate area, covering some ground into the woods, but as it was too dark to see anything, they decided to resume their search at first light. In the morning, more than 50 police officers and administrative staff, as well as 100 soldiers were brought in to comb the area, with a specific focus on the woods.

The woods, although beautiful, had a somewhat spooky feeling to it. After the war Hodgemoor was home to a Polish Resettlement camp.  It offered a home-base for Polish families who managed to make it out of Russian labour camps – giving them a place to stay together, preserving their culture, while finding their feet in their adoptive country. The camp closed in 1962, and in 1966, the temporary buildings were still scattered around the woods, most of them in ruins. And it was here, a couple of yards away from a disused charcoal kiln once used to power the camp, that searchers came upon Helen’s body at 2:30pm. It was an isolated spot, a clearing off the beaten track, of about 12 feet in diameter. 

The location was approximately mile from where Helen had parked her car, in the heart of the woods. If she had screamed, especially in the twilight hours of the day before, chances of anyone hearing her would have been slim. Her dog Fancy was found, snuggled up to her, with his leg over one of her knees. Fancy was distraught, but unharmed. John Young, one of the police officers who were at the scene, recalled:

“The doctor’s dog, a terrier-type, didn’t let anyone near it. It was near the doctor but it wasn’t attached on a lead. If you walked towards the body it went for you. It was quite intimidating. A peculiar animal, if you stepped towards the doctor, it bared its teeth. You could only go so far. I seem to remember a request for a dog handler was made.”

Fancy was taken to a nearby farm, where the farmer’s 18-year-old daughter looked after him while police concluded their job at the scene for the day, then police picked him up again and took him home to Herbert.

Police were coming to terms with a shocking crime and knew that it would make big waves. When they found the body of Dr Helen Davidson, she was lying face-up among the autumn leaves. Her face had been beaten to a pulp and her head was wedged into the soil. Locals who walked in the woods said that they could see the hole made by Helen’s head for years after the murder.

It was obvious that it was a vicious blow to the head that had killed her. At first glance, investigators thought she could have been struck with a metal object. The force of the blow caused her to fall backwards, and the killer stepped on her face, gouging her eyes into the back of her skull. It was a horrific scene. What monster would commit such a heinous crime? 

From the start, the investigation had its challenges. Murder wasn’t a common occurrence in Buckinghamshire in those days, and local police realised they needed assistance. One of Amersham’s most prominent residents had been murdered and they needed answers.

Investigators walked from door to door, throughout Hyde Heath and Amersham, asking residents where they were on the afternoon of the murder. About 70 people from the surrounding neighbourhoods walked their dogs in Hodgemoor Wood on that Wednesday. Most of the dog walkers were women and they were there earlier in the day. 

All local troublemakers, people with criminal records and sex offenders, peeping toms, anyone on police’s radar were brought in for questioning, but the enquiry did not yield any new leads. 

Helen had her car keys in her coat pocket – it was the only item of value. But seeing as the killer didn’t steal her car, robbery was ruled out as a motive. There were also no signs of sexual assault. Police quickly surmised that it was not a pre-meditated murder, but rather a murder of opportunity. 

Detectives were brought in from Scotland Yard and kept the public informed. The term psychopath made it into local newspapers, referring to the faceless killer. Detective Chief Superintendent Jack ‘Razor’ Williams was in charge of the investigation. He was convinced the killer was still in the community and appealed to the public for information. He said:

“Don’t’ shield this man. He needs help. No one can come home after doing a thing like this and act normally.”

The community was stumped. Helen’s patients found themselves without their dedicated doctor and soon theories about her murder started doing the rounds. 

Did Helen stumble across something that she shouldn’t have seen – illicit lovers perhaps, who were desperate to protect their secret? DCS Razor Williams took it a step further and theorised that Helen saw gay lovers and they wanted to prevent her from exposing them. At the time homosexuality was considered a crime, and if caught in the act, one would have been arrested and imprisoned. This law only changed the following year in 1967.

DCS Razor Williams stated:

“She had binoculars round her neck, spied illicit lovers, was spotted and one or both of them killed her.”

He supported his theory by highlighting the fact that the killer stomped onto Helen’s face and gouging out her eyes. She must have SEEN something, to DCS Williams this was irrefutable evidence. It was a crime of opportunity – not premeditated in any way. With this, DCS Williams stamped his opinion on the case, before retiring a month later. According to the Detective Chief Superintendent, if they were able to find people engaged in a secret love affair, they would find the murderer. No other avenues needed to be explored. They even appealed to the public for information about illicit love affairs at a press conference held on the 2nd of December, three weeks after the murder. 

DCS Williams also mentioned that it was possible that Dr Davidson’s dog, Fancy, could have bitten her assailant. After checking all hospitals and doctors’ rooms in the area, they could not find anyone who had this kind of injury. Perhaps he or she went to a drug store, or perhaps they took care of the wound at home. This was an interesting line of enquiry, seeing as Fancy was very protective of his owner – it was plausible. He could very well have attacked the killer, but also, if the killer was dressed in outdoor gear for a cold autumn afternoon, the small terrier’s bite would most likely not have done much more than tear their clothing. Either way, again, no one came forward with any information. And the flipside to this theory was conveniently swept under the rug: what if Fancy knew the killer? Fancy only ever warmed up to three people: Helen, Herbert and their housekeeper Kathleen. Everyone else only ever got a growl or a bark.

So, looking for a suspect who was secretly gay and had engaged in an illicit tryst in the woods with a possible dog bite, was an unattainable task. After DCS Williams retired, the case was handed back to local police, and at the start of the following year, there were still no further clues as to who killed Dr Helen Davidson. They revisited the facts they had in hand…

The location of the crime scene was right in the middle of the woods. In 1966, the woodland had unrestricted access, but it was difficult to navigate one’s way around, due to the dense undergrowth. People who walked their dogs usually went closer to the edge of the woods, near the road and wouldn’t venture so deep in, especially at that time of day. It wasn’t terribly unusual for Helen to have been there, seeing as she would have sought out a quiet spot for birdwatching. But what was her killer doing there?

Because the attack occurred within normal business hours, albeit late in the afternoon, they knew the killer was not likely to have had a fulltime job. He or she had the freedom to be out in the woods on a weekday afternoon. 

Locals agreed that, although Hodgemoor Wood was a popular lover’s lane, people usually remained in their cars. There were some concrete slabs for parking, and vehicles parked there were not visible from the road. Rosalind Pearce, the farmer’s daughter who looked after Fancy on the day Helen’s body was found, recalled:

“It was rare for the car parks to be empty. Cars were in and out during the day. It was funny, about lunchtime and about 4:30 in the afternoon I’d see a man driving his car in and shortly after another person would drive in. I used to ride my horse and walk in the woods. The next thing you’d see was one of the cars very steamed up. There was lots of that.”

If someone was having a secret affair, police needed to uncover it. But country town rumours were often just that: rumours. They had to go on facts and hoped that the crime scene would reveal something about the killer.

The area immediately surrounding the scene was undisturbed. Investigators could not find a trail of footprints through the autumn leaves on the ground. Remember, there were close to 200 people conducting a grid-search in the woods, so isolating a foreign shoeprint would have been impossible. Still, where the body was found, there was no obvious escape route. The leaves were also undisturbed, showing hardly any signs of a struggle. There was blood spatter on the trees surrounding the clearing, a grim reminder of the ferocity of the attack.

A charred tree branch with a noticeable amount of dried blood on it, was found near the body and deemed to be the murder weapon. Also the fact that it was a charred piece of wood was strange, seeing as bonfires had been banned from the woods more than two months before the murder. Of course it could have been there from an earlier fire, but… Where would the wood have come from if there were no poplar trees around? The charcoal kiln from the Settlement Camp used dried wood from Hodgemoor, where there is a wide variety of trees: oak, beech, chestnut, ash, hazel and birch trees, but no poplars.

Also, back in the day, they saw blood on the piece of would, and jumped to a conclusion. It was not definitively proven that the blood was Helen’s – it could have been from an injured animal even. Police must have known that the murder weapon could still be out there, and their search continued into the ealry months of 1967.

When Helen’s body was discovered, her binoculars, still on its strap around her neck, lay to the right side of her head. One eyepiece was covered with blood. Could she have been struck while looking through the binoculars? Could that be why she didn’t see the attacker coming up next to her? And would that partly explain the severe damage to her eyes?

An autopsy was conducted the same evening she was found – more than 24 hours after her death. Pathologists concluded that the murder occurred somewhere between 4 and 10 pm the day before, in all likelihood closer to 4. Her assailant used a heavy object to attack her. Pieces of charred matter in her wounds supported the theory that the bloodied burnt-out tree branch found near the scene was in fact the murder weapon. Although the force of any one of the strikes was enough to have killed her, the killer continued the attack, hitting her over and over again. The injuries to her face were excessive, it was overkill. Whoever attacked Helen acted in a rage – and perhaps even attacked her out of deep-rooted hatred. 

Because of the overkill, a theory emerged that Helen knew her killer. She had no defensive wounds, which meant she didn’t see her attacker coming. Bear in mind: she wore thick fur-lined suede gloves that were covered in blood. So she may have covered her face or pushed the attacker. However, her hands were completely unharmed and had no bruising. Most of the wounds were to the left side of her face – so, she was attacked from the front. 

The trees at the clearing in the woods were covered with spatter. The killer would have been covered in blood too, which made police think that he or she lived close-by and was able to change without anyone noticing. But then again – what if they had driven there and their car was parked nearby? The killer could have gone anywhere. And that was perhaps a massive oversight in the investigation. Firstly, Helen Davidson’s car was never examined. Is it fair to assume they did not examine the area around it? What about tyre marks?  

Either way, at some point, the killer would have had to dispose of bloody clothing. Police hoped that a family member or neighbour would have noticed something, but no one came forward.

Who could have harmed Helen? A patient with a grudge? A family member of a patient? One of her colleagues who worked at the same medical practice: Dr Rolt, Dr Philips or Dr Howell? One after the other, people close to the good doctor were cleared as suspects.

Investigators would not have done their job, had they not looked into Helen’s husband Herbert as a possible suspect. He claimed he didn’t know where she went that afternoon. He also said that they did some gardening together in the morning. However, Helen made a house call to the family with the twins and then went to work. Herbert was over 80, and his memory was slipping, so police thought he got his days mixed up. Or was there something to this misinformation? Four days after his wife’s murder, Herbert fulfilled his duties as a lay preacher in a neighbouring community of Hyde Heath at a Remembrance Day service. He prayed that the congregation did not feel any resentment towards the killer. Helen was not yet buried, yet he was preaching forgiveness. And surely a husband would feel a surge of anger, knowing the brutal manner in which his wife was murdered. Perhaps Herbert wanted to save face and be graceful. He was from a generation where appearances meant everything, so by him doing what he did, that is spreading God’s word, this could have simply been an attempt to soldier on and be strong. However, some people in the congregation did find it odd.

Herbert was the main beneficiary of Helen’s will, earning him an estate worth £24,000, which included Helen’s house, Ashlynn. People have killed for less. Police constructed a timeline of Herbert’s movements on the day of his wife’s disappearance. He was home all morning, had a light lunch at home, and then left around a half past one to go to Chesham, where he had a part-time clerical job. He used to be a banker but struggled with the notion of retirement. Although he was in his eighties, Herbert insisted on keeping busy. On that Wednesday, Herbert took the bus to work and his co-workers confirmed that he was there all afternoon. He arrived back home at 5:30pm – and it was already dark outside.

A year after the murder, he contacted police, stating that he was going on vacation to Scotland and asked if he could have Helen’s binoculars back. The pair of binoculars that was found around his dead wife’s neck when her body was discovered. Police found his request rather odd, but this didn’t mean he was the killer. In the course of the investigation, Herbert was questioned multiple times, and he was ruled out as a possible suspect. For a while, they considered the possibility that Herbert had hired someone to kill his wife, knowing that at that exact time, he would have an alibi.

But who would Herbert trust with such an unseemly request? His housekeeper, Kathleen Cooke, was also under investigation. She was still attached to Herbert Baker and could have had a good reason to want Helen out of the way. If jealousy wasn’t a strong enough motive, she could have been concerned about her future: what would happen in the event of Herbert’s death – would Helen inherit Rosemead cottage and put Kathleen out on the street? 

At the time of Helen’s murder, Kathleen was cleaning and cooking at Ashlyn on Wednesday afternoons. Helen had agreed to this arrangement, seeing as it was on the days that Herbert was at work. Kathleen was tasked with answering Helen’s home phone, where her patients could reach her after hours. Helen was also the police physician, and the first doctor to contact in the event of assault, sex crimes or other instances where blood samples needed to be taken. 

However, there was no evidence if Kathleen was at Ashlynn for the entire afternoon. She could have left and returned without anyone noticing. Ashlynn was about five miles from where Helen was murdered. Kathleen took the bus from Rosemead to Ashlynn. But Kathleen occasionally drove Herbert’s car, which was parked in the garage at Helen’s house that afternoon. Did police ever ask neighbours if they saw a car leave the property? We don’t know. 

Police stated that Kathleen was NOT a suspect, yet they searched her home and even dug up her garden, in search of the murder weapon. Herbert’s neighbours at Ashlynn noticed that she spent more and more time there, sometimes staying the night.

Herbert passed away in 1975, without knowing who killed his wife. To Kathleen’s surprise, he left her Rosemead, as well as half of his estate, including Helen’s house, Ashlynn. The other half went to Herbert’s nephew.  

For 55 years, the case went unsolved, until sleuth and author, Monica Weller took an interest in the case. She jokingly refers to herself as a real-life Miss Marple, and became aware of Dr Helen Davidson’s case, after giving a talk about her book on Ruth Ellis in the town of Amersham. A local woman informed her about the unsolved case, and Monica was ready to find out more about it.

She took seven years to research the murder and landed on a couple of possible suspects, all explored in her book, Injured Parties – Solving the Murder of Dr Helen Davidson.

Weller uncovers the fact that, despite her professional accolades, Helen was not necessarily well-liked by everyone in Amersham. But there was someone other than Kathleen Cooke who also did not have much time for the well-respected doctor.

In 1961, 21-year-old Michael Larcombe had a lot going for him. He had a steady job, a devoted girlfriend and was an all-round good-looking happy-go-lucky guy, when he had a motorcycle accident. He was riding home on his lunchbreak and at an intersection, Dr Helen Davidson turned out in front of him and stalled her car. Michael suffered serious injuries, many to his skull and face and was in a coma for an entire month. He wasn’t a shadow of the man he used to be, and his resentment grew as he got older. 

Michael felt Helen got off lightly in the court case about the accident, and believed it was because she was well-connected and that her friends in high positions helped her to get away with it. Michael was overheard saying that if he ever saw the doctor, he would kill her. However, on the day of Helen’s murder, Michael had a solid alibi: he was an inmate at Oxford Prison, serving time for car theft. 

It was shortly after the accident, that Helen’s marriage was announced in local newspapers. Was this a strategic decision? Did Herbert promise to protect her by using connections to make the case go away? That would explain their strange union, but one never knows what goes on behind closed doors, so let’s not speculate. It could well be that it was the trauma of the accident, knowing what she had done to Michael Larcombe that killed the sparkle in her eyes, and not her marriage to Herbert.

Another person of interest who deserves a mention is bus driver, George Garbett. In his part time, Garbett, worked as a gardener for a London businessman who owned a property on the outskirts of Hodgemoor Wood. 

Garbett was a veteran who had suffered brain damage during the war and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He had a history of sexual failure and was impotent. His concluded that he was bisexual, but that he had a stronger preference for men. He married a woman when he was 39, but the doctor believed that this was only for appearances. 

Garbett inserted himself into the investigation, by confessing to his doctor that he heard voices in his head and that he had done wrong. His GP, who did NOT work at the same medical practice as Helen, was convinced that Garbett was on the verge of making a formal confession, but he never got around to doing so. In 1971, Garbett doused himself in gas, climbed into his car that was parked out front of his house at the bottom of Bottrells Lane, and lit himself on fire. Garbett burnt to death that day, and if he did know anything about Helen’s murder, he took it to his grave. 

But what linked Garbett to Dr Helen Davidson? The bus depot from where he worked, was located opposite Gore Hill medical practice where Dr Davidson worked. On the 9th of November he worked in the morning, and he usually travelled along Bottrells Lane to get home. If he decided to go into the woods that day, perhaps he had a psychotic break and attacked Helen. George Garbett left no suicide note and any accusations against him would remain pure speculation for many years to come.

Notes of his confidential conversations with his GP will be available to police, 100 years after his death. Monica Weller concluded that Garbett is the strongest suspect, and that he fell through the cracks during the investigation.

If Helen’s murder occurred today, the investigation would have looked much different. The crime scene would have been examined more closely, even Fancy would have been examined for any traces of DNA from the killer. There are so many questions, one can ask as an armchair sleuth, like: if she was attacked from the front, with most injuries to the left-side of her face, does it mean the killer could have been left-handed? Did they find charred particles on the binoculars? Did they ever test Helen’s blood-stained gloves?

The power of hindsight makes it easy to critique the efforts of police in 1966. However, they followed common practice for the times. Also, outside of London, crimes like this one were rare. And once Scotland Yard retreated, it was up to country cops to follow up on leads and explore new lines of inquiry. They questioned more than 2000 people, no small feat for the local constabulary.

The case is 55 years old, and many of the role players are no longer alive. Yet, one can hope that, with modern forensic testing they will one day be able to solve the case. 

Helen’s murder remains an open investigation, a cold case of the Thames Valley Police. Until it is solved, we are left to speculate: who killed Dr Helen Davidson? Was it the jealous housekeeper, Kathleen Cooke? Or a troubled bus driver, George Garbett? Unsolved for the best part of a decade, this is a truly puzzling murder mystery.

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